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The Project Gutenberg EBook of Life Everlasting, by John Fiske

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Title: Life Everlasting

Author: John Fiske

Release Date: December 5, 2010 [EBook #34569]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1


Produced by Larry B. Harrison, Louise Pattison and the
Online Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net

By John Fiske


A CENTURY OF SCIENCE, and other Essays.

MYTHS AND MYTH-MAKERS: Old Tales and Superstitions interpreted by
Comparative Mythology.

OUTLINES OF COSMIC PHILOSOPHY. New Edition. With introduction by Josiah
Royce, and index. 4 vols.

THE UNSEEN WORLD, and other Essays.


DARWINISM, and other Essays.

THE DESTINY OF MAN, viewed in the Light of His Origin.

THE IDEA OF GOD, as affected by Modern Knowledge.



_For complete list of Mr. Fiske's Historical and Philosophical Works,
and Essays, see pages at the back of this work._






            JOHN FISKE



    The Riverside Press Cambridge


    _Published September, 1901_



On the evening of December 19, 1900, Mr. Fiske delivered in Sanders
Theatre, Cambridge, the address here printed. It was given at the
request of Harvard University, in accordance with the terms of the
Ingersoll lectureship, but it stood clearly in Mr. Fiske's mind as a
continuation, and in a sense the completion, of that series of
philosophic studies successively issued under the titles, "The Destiny
of Man viewed in the Light of his Origin," "The Idea of God as affected
by Modern Knowledge," and "Through Nature to God." Mr. Fiske delayed the
publication of "Life Everlasting," and it is possible that he designed
amplifying it. Yet, as he stated in his Preface to "The Idea of God,"
that both that book and "The Destiny of Man" were printed exactly as
delivered, "without the addition, or subtraction, or alteration of a
single word," so he may have intended to print this study in the same
way. At any rate it is now printed exactly as it was delivered, his
perfectly clear manuscript being carefully followed.

  _Autumn, 1901_



_Extract from the will of Miss Caroline Haskell Ingersoll, who died in
Keene, County of Cheshire, New Hampshire, Jan. 26, 1893._

First. In carrying out the wishes of my late beloved father, George
Goldthwait Ingersoll, as declared by him in his last will and testament,
I give and bequeath to Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., where my
late father was graduated, and which he always held in love and honor,
the sum of Five thousand dollars ($5,000) as a fund for the
establishment of a Lectureship on a plan somewhat similar to that of the
Dudleian lecture, that is--one lecture to be delivered each year, on any
convenient day between the last day of May and the first day of
December, on this subject, "the Immortality of Man," said lecture not to
form a part of the usual college course, nor to be delivered by any
Professor or Tutor as part of his usual routine of instruction, though
any such Professor or Tutor may be appointed to such service. The choice
of said lecturer is not to be limited to any one religious denomination,
nor to any one profession, but may be that of either clergyman or
layman, the appointment to take place at least six months before the
delivery of said lecture. The above sum to be safely invested and three
fourths of the annual interest thereof to be paid to the lecturer for
his services and the remaining fourth to be expended in the publishment
and gratuitous distribution of the lecture, a copy of which is always to
be furnished by the lecturer for such purpose. The same lecture to be
named and known as "the Ingersoll lecture on the Immortality of Man."




Few incidents in ancient history are more tragic than the death of
Pompey. The spectacle of the mighty warrior who had conquered the Orient
and contended with Cæsar for the mastery of the world, a defeated and
despairing fugitive, treacherously murdered and lying unburied on the
Egyptian strand, was one that drew tears from Cæsar himself and from
many another. Yet among the poets of the sixteenth century Renaissance
there was one who took a different view of the matter. In an epigram of
incomparable beauty Francesco Molsa exclaims:--

    Dux, Pharea quamvis jaceas inhumatus arena,
      Non ideo fati est sævior ira tui:
    Indignum fuerat tellus tibi victa sepulcrum;
      Non decuit coelo, te, nisi, Magne, tegi!

It is almost impossible to preserve in a translation the peculiar charm
of these lines, but a friend of mine in one of the pleasant student days
of forty years ago produced this happy and fitting paraphrase:--

    We grieve not, Pompey, that to thee
      No earthly tomb was given;
    All lands subdued, nought else was free
      To shelter thee but Heaven!

Here the art of the poet lies in the boldness with which he seizes upon
one of the most subtle and startling effects of contrast. In the very
circumstance which to the ancient mind was the acme of humiliation and
horror his genius discerns the occasion for most exalted panegyric, the
bitterness of death is lost in the abounding triumph of the soul
enlarged and set free, the attributes of woe are transformed into
crowning glories.

It is just in this spirit of the Modenese poet that mankind has sought
to take away from death its sting, from the grave its victory. That
solemn moment in which, for those who have gone before and for us who
are to follow, the eye of sense beholds naught save the ending of the
world, the entrance upon a black and silent eternity, the eye of faith
declares to be the supreme moment of a new birth for the disenthralled
soul, the introduction to a new era of life compared with which the
present one is not worthy of the name. [Greek: Tis d' oiden], exclaims

    [Greek: Tis d' oiden ei to zên men esti katthanein,
    To katthanein de zên?]

Who can tell but that this which we call life is really death, from
which what we call death is an awakening? From this vantage ground of
thought the human soul comes to look without dread upon the termination
of this terrestrial existence. The failure of the bodily powers, the
stoppage of the fluttering pulse, the cold stillness upon the features
so lately wreathed in smiles of merriment, the corruption of the tomb,
the breaking of the ties of love, the loss of all that has given value
to existence, the dull blankness of irremediable sorrow, the knell of
everlasting farewells,--all this is seized upon by the sovereign
imagination of man and transformed into a scene of transcending glory,
such as in all the vast career of the universe is reserved for humanity
alone. In the highest of creatures the Divine immanence has acquired
sufficient concentration and steadiness to survive the dissolution of
the flesh and assert an individuality untrammelled by the limitations
which in the present life everywhere persistently surround it. Upon this
view death is not a calamity but a boon, not a punishment inflicted
upon Man, but the supreme manifestation of his exceptional prerogative
as chief among God's creatures. Thus the faith in immortal life is the
great poetic achievement of the human mind, it is all-pervasive, it is
concerned with every moment and every aspect of our existence as moral
individuals, and it is the one thing that makes this world inhabitable
for beings constructed like ourselves. The destruction of this sublime
poetic conception would be like depriving a planet of its atmosphere; it
would leave nothing but a moral desert as cold and dead as the savage
surface of the moon.

We have now to consider this supreme poetic achievement of man--his
belief in his own Immortality--in the light of our modern studies of
evolution; we must notice some distinctions between its earlier and
later stages, and briefly examine some of the objections which have been
alleged in the name of science against the validity of the belief.

Here, as in all departments of the efflorescence of the human mind, the
beginnings were lowly, and necessarily so. Nothing very lofty or
far-reaching could be expected from the kind of brain that was encased
in the Neanderthal skull. Among existing savages there are tribes
concerning which travellers have doubted whether they possess ideas that
can properly be called religious. But wherever untutored humanity exists
we find the conception of a world of ghosts more or less distinctly
elaborated; the thronging simulacra of departed tribesmen linger near
their accustomed haunts, keenly sensitive to favour or neglect, and
quick to punish all infractions of the rules which the stern exigencies
of life in the wilderness have prescribed for the conduct of the tribe.
This crude primeval ghost-world is thus already closely associated with
the ethical side of life, and out of this association have grown some of
the most colossal governing agencies by which the development of human
society has been influenced. It is therefore not without reason that
modern students of anthropology devote so much time to animism and
fetishism and other crude workings of that savage intelligence of which
the primeval ghost-world is a product.

It is not at all unlikely that the savage's notion of ghosts may have
originated chiefly in his experience of dreams, and this is the
explanation at present most in favour. The sleeping warrior ranges far
and wide over the country, while he chases the buffalo and joins in the
medicine dance with comrades known to have died yet now as active and as
voluble as himself, but suddenly the scene changes and he is back in his
familiar hut surrounded by his people who can testify that he has not
for a moment left them. It is not unlikely, I say, that the notion of
one's conscious self as something which can quit the material body and
return to it may have started in such often-repeated humble
experiences. It can hardly be doubted, however, that this savage
conception of the detachable conscious self is simply the primitive
phase of the Christian conception of the conscious soul which dwells
within the perishable body and quits it at death. Through many stages of
elaboration and refinement the sequence between the two conceptions is

At this point the materialist interposes with an argument which he
regards as crushing. He reminds us that if we would estimate the value
of an idea, as of a race-horse or a mastiff, it is well to take a look
at its pedigree. What, then, is to be said--he scornfully asks--of a
doctrine of personal immortality which when reduced to its lowest terms
is seen to have started in a savage's misinterpretation of his dreams?
What more is needed to prove it unworthy of the serious attention of a
scientific student of nature? On the other hand, the student whose mood
is truly scientific will feel that one of mankind's cardinal beliefs
must not be dismissed too lightly because of the crudeness and error in
that primitive stratum of human thought in which it first took root. In
his perceptions within certain limits the savage is eminently keen and
accurate, but when it comes to intellectual judgments that go at all
below the surface of things his mind is a mere farrago of grotesque
fancies, wherein, nevertheless, some kernels of truth are here and there
embedded. It is a long way from the dragon swallowing the sun to the
interposition of the moon's dark body between us and that luminary. The
dragon was a figment of fancy, but the eclipse was none the less a fact.

Now if we may take an illustration from the workings of an infant's
mind, it is pretty clearly made out that as baby sits propped among his
pillows and turns his eyes hither and thither in following his mother's
movements to and fro in the room, she seems in coming toward him to
enlarge and in going away to diminish in size, like Alice in Wonderland.
It is only with the education of the eye and the small muscles which
adjust it that the larger area subtended on the retina instantly means
comparative nearness and the smaller area comparative remoteness. At
first the sensations are interpreted directly, and the impression upon
baby's nascent intelligence is a gross error. The mother is not waxing
great and small by turns, but only approaching and receding. If,
however, we consider that in baby's mind the enlarged retinal spot means
more and the diminished spot less of the pleasurable feelings excited by
a familiar and gracious presence, the approach of which is greeted with
smiles and out-stretched arms, while its departure is bemoaned with
cries and tears, we see that as to the essentials of the situation the
dawning intelligence is entirely right, although its specific
interpretation is quite wrong. Mamma has not really dwindled and
vanished like the penny in a conjurer's palm, but has only flitted from
the field of vision.

To come back now to our primeval savage, when he sees in a dream his
deceased comrade and mistakes the vision for a reality, his error is not
concerned with the most fundamental part of the matter. The
all-important fact is that this dreaming savage has somehow acquired a
mental attitude toward death which is totally different from that of all
other animals, and is therefore peculiarly human. Throughout the
half-dozen invertebrate branches or sub-kingdoms, where intelligence is
manifested only in its lower forms of reflex action and instinct, we
find no evidence that any creature has come to know of death. There is a
sense, no doubt, in which we may say that the love of life is
universal. As a rule, all animals shun danger, and natural selection
maintains this rule by the pitiless slaughter of all delinquents, of all
in whom the needful inherited tendencies are too weak. But in the lower
animal grades and in the vegetal world the courting of life and the
shrinking from death go on without conscious intelligence, as the blades
of grass in a meadow or the clustering leaves upon a tree compete with
one another for the maximum of exposure to sunshine until perhaps stout
boughs and stems are warped or twisted in the struggle. Among
invertebrates, even when we get so high as lobsters and cuttlefish, the
consciousness attendant upon the seizing of prey and the escape from
enemies probably does not extend beyond the facts within the immediate
sphere of vision. Even among those ants that have marshalled hosts and
grand tactics there is doubtless no such thing as meditation of death.
Passing to the vertebrates, it is not until we reach the warm-blooded
birds and mammals that we find what we are seeking. Among sundry birds
and mammals we see indications of a dawning recognition of the presence
of death. An early manifestation is the sense of bereavement when the
maternal instinct is rudely disturbed, as in the cow mourning for her
calf. This feeling goes a little way, but not a great way, beyond the
sense of physical discomfort, and is soon relieved by milking. Much more
intense and abiding is the feeling of bereavement among birds that mate
for life, and among the higher apes, and it reaches its culmination in
the dog whose intelligence and affections have been so profoundly
modified through his immensely long comradeship with man. Nowhere in
literature do we strike upon a deeper note of pathos than in Scott's
immortal lines on the dog who starved while watching his young master's
lifeless body, alone upon a Highland moor:--

    "How long didst thou think that his silence was slumber?
    When the wind stirred his garment, how oft didst thou start!"

Yet even this devoted creature could have carried his thoughts but
little way toward the point reached by our dreaming savage with his
incipient ghost-world. More power of abstraction and generalization was
needed. While the sight of the killing of a fellow-creature may arouse
violent terror in the higher mammals below man, there is nothing to
indicate that the sight of the dead body awakens in the dumb spectator
any general conceptions in which his own ultimate doom is included. The
only feeling aroused seems to vary between utter indifference and faint
curiosity. Professor Shaler makes a statement of cardinal importance in
this connection when he says: "If we should seek some one mark which, in
the intellectual advance from the brutes to man, might denote the
passage to the human side, we might well find it in the moment when it
dawned on the nascent man that death was a mystery which he had in his
turn to meet."[1]

[1] Shaler, _The Individual_, p. 194.

It is therefore interesting to note that the first approaches, albeit
remote ones, toward a realizing sense of death occur among those animals
in which the beginnings of family life have been made, and the habitual
exercise of altruistic emotions helps to widen the intelligence and
facilitate the appropriation to one's self of the experiences of one's
comrades and mates. Such is the case with permanently mated birds and
with the higher apes, while the case of the dog, exceptional as it is
through his acquired dependence upon man, has similar implications. Now
I have elsewhere proved and repeatedly illustrated that the leading
peculiarity which distinguished man's apelike progenitors from all other
creatures was the progressive increase in the duration of infancy, which
was a direct consequence of expanding intelligence, and was moreover the
immediate cause of the genesis of the human family and of human society.
It appears now that the realizing sense of death, such as we find it in
untutored men of primitive habits of thought, has originated in the
selfsame circumstances which have wrought the mighty change from
gregariousness to sociality, from the general level of mammalian
existence to the unique level of humanity. I have elsewhere called
attention to the profoundly interesting fact that the notion of an
Unseen World beyond that in which we lead our daily lives is coeval with
the earliest beginnings of Humanity upon our planet. We may now observe
that it adds greatly to the interest and to the significance of this
fact, when we find that the very circumstances which tended to single
out our progenitors, and raise them from the average mammalian level
into Manhood, tended also to make them realize the problem of death and
meet it with a solution. The grouping of facts now begins to make it
appear that this primeval solution was but the natural outcome of the
whole cosmic process that had gone before; that when nascent Humanity
first eluded the burden of the problem by rising above it, this was but
part and parcel of the unprecedented cosmic operation through which
man's Humanity was developed and declared. The long and cumulative play
of cause and effect which wrought the lengthening of the period of
helpless babyhood and the correlative maternal care, and which thus
differentiated the non-human horde of primates into a group of human
clans, was attended by a strong development of the sympathetic feelings
as it vastly increased the mutual dependence among individuals. During
the same period the gradual acquirement of articulate speech was
accompanied by a great increase in the powers of abstraction and
generalization. These new capacities were applied to the interpretation
of death, just as they were applied to all other things; and thus, in
the very process of becoming human, our progenitors arose to the
consciousness of death as something with which humanity has always and
everywhere to reckon. From the earliest and most rudimentary stages of
the process, however, the conception of death was not of an event which
puts an end to human individuality, but of an event which human
individuality survives. If we look at the circumstances of the genesis
of mankind purely from the naturalist's point of view, it cannot fail to
be highly significant that the mental attitude toward death should from
the first have assumed this form, that the human soul should from the
start have felt itself encompassed not only by the endless multitude of
visible and tangible and audible things, but also by an Unseen World. In
view of this striking fact it is of small moment that the earliest
generalizations which in course of time developed into a world of ghosts
and demons were grotesquely erroneous. Primitive theorizing is sure to
be faulty and in the light of later knowledge comes to seem absurd and
bizarre. Such has been in modern days the fate of the savage's
ghost-world, along with the Ptolemaic astronomy, the doctrine of
signatures, and many another sample of the "wisdom of the ancients." But
the fact that primitive man mis-stated his relation to the Unseen World
in no wise militates against the truth of his assumption that such a
world exists for us.

To this question as to the truth of the assumption I shall return in the
sequel. We have very briefly sketched the manner of its origination, and
here we may leave this part of our subject with the remark that the
belief in a future life, in a world unseen to mortal eyes, is not only
coeval with the beginnings of the human race but is also coextensive
with it in all its subsequent stages of development. It is in short one
of the differential attributes of humanity. Man is not only the primate
who possesses articulate speech and the power of abstract reasoning, who
is characterized by a long period of plastic infancy and a corresponding
capacity for progress, who is grouped in societies of which the
primordial units were clans; he is not only all this, but he is the
creature who expects to survive the event of physical death. This
expectation was one of his acquisitions gained while attaining to the
human plane of existence, and the interesting question in the natural
history of man is whether it is to be regarded as a permanent
acquisition, or is rather analogous to the organ that subserves, perhaps
through long ages, an important but temporary purpose, after the
fulfilment of which it dwindles into a rudiment neglected and forgotten.

I do not overlook the existence of divers theological systems in which
the attitude toward a future life is very different from that with which
our Christian education has made us familiar. We sometimes hear such
systems cited as exceptions to the alleged universality of the human
belief in immortality. The Buddhist looks forward through myriads of
successive sentient existences to a culminating state of Nirwana, which
if not actual extinction is at least complete quiescence, the absolute
zero of being. It hardly needs saying, however, that Buddhistic
theology, though it may have arrived at such a zero through long flights
of metaphysical reasoning, is nevertheless based in all its foundations
upon the primitive belief in man's survival of death. Sometimes it is
said that the Jews of the Old Testament times had no proper conception
of immortality. It can hardly be maintained, however, that such stories
as that of the conversation at Endor between the living Saul and the
dead Samuel could emanate from a people destitute of belief in a life
after death. In point of fact ancient Jewish thought abounds in traces
of the primitive ghost-world. It is only by contrast with the glorious
and inspiring Christian development of the belief in immortality that
the earlier dispensation seems so jejune and meagre in its faith. There
was little to arouse religious emotion in the dismal world of flitting
shadows, the Sheol or Hades from which the Greek hero would so gladly
have escaped, even to take the most menial position in all the sunlit
world. Greek and Hebrew thought, in what we call the classic ages, stood
alike in need of religious revival. The mythic lore of the Greek mind
had flowered luxuriantly in æsthetic fancies, while the spiritual life
of Judaism languished amid strict obedience to forms and precepts. The
far-reaching thoughts of Greek philosophers and the lofty ethics of
Hebrew preachers were divorced from the primitive ghost-world, even as
the mental processes of the modern scholar are separated by a great gulf
from those of the woman who comes to scrub the floor. The advent of
Christianity fused together the various elements. The doctrine of a
future life was endowed with all the moral significance that Jewish
thought could give to it, and with all the mystic glory that Hellenic
speculation could contribute, so that the effect upon men was that of a
fresh revelation of life and immortality through the gospel. Grotesque
and hideous features also were brought in from the ghost-worlds of the
classic ages, as well as from that of the Teutonic barbarians, and the
result is seen in mediæval Christianity. At no other time, perhaps, has
the Unseen World played such a leading part in men's minds as in the
twelfth and thirteenth centuries of our Christian era, in the age that
witnessed the culmination of sublimity in church architecture, in the
society whose thought found comprehensive expression in the "Summa" of
St. Thomas, as the thought of our times is expressed in Spencer's "First
Principles," in an intellectual atmosphere, which just as it was about
passing away was depicted for all coming time in the poem of Dante. It
was a time of spiritual awakening such as mankind had never before
witnessed, but it was also an age of new problems, an age wherein the
seeds of revolt were thickly germinating. The nature and constitution of
the Unseen World had been too rashly and too elaborately set forth in
theorems born of the slender knowledge of primitive times, and the
growing tendency to interrogate Nature soon led to conclusions which
broke down the old edifice of thought. In the sixteenth century came
Copernicus and administered such a shock to the mind as even Luther's
defiance of the papacy scarcely equalled. In recent days, when Bishop
Wilberforce reckoned without his host in trying to twit Huxley with his
monkey ancestry, our minds were getting inured to all sorts of audacious
innovations, so that they did not greatly disturb us. For its unsettling
effects upon time-honoured beliefs and mental habits the Darwinian
theory is no more to be compared to the Copernican than the invention of
the steamboat is to be compared to the voyages of Columbus. We are in no
danger of overrating the bewilderment that was wrought by the discovery
that our earth is not the physical centre of things, and that the sun
apparently does not exist for the sole purpose of giving light and
warmth to man's terrestrial habitat. We need not wonder that in
conservative Spain scarcely a century ago the University of Salamanca
prohibited the teaching of the Newtonian astronomy. We need not wonder
that Galileo should have been commanded to hold his tongue on a topic
that seemed to cast discredit upon the whole theology that assumes man
to be the central object of the Divine care.

This unsettling of men's minds was of course indefinitely increased by
the revolt of Descartes against the scholastic philosophy, by Newton's
immense contributions to physics, and by such discoveries as those of
Harvey, Black, and Lavoisier, which showed by what methods truth could
be obtained concerning Nature's operations, and how different such
methods were from those by which the accepted systems of theology had
been built up. The result has been wholesale skepticism directed
against everything whatever that now exists or has ever existed in the
shape of an ancient belief. This result was first reached in France
about the middle of the eighteenth century, when the thoughts of Locke
and Newton were eagerly absorbed in a community irritated beyond
endurance by social injustice, and in which the church had done much to
forfeit respect. Thus came about that violent outbreak of materialistic
atheism which, in spite of its generous aims and many admirable
achievements, is surely one of the most mournful episodes in the history
of human thought. The French philosophers set an example to three
generations; the note struck by Diderot and Buffon and D'Alembert
continued to resound until the scientific horizon had become radiant in
every quarter with the promise of a brighter day, and its echoes have
not yet died. It was but lately that the voice of Lamettrie was heard
again from the lips of Strauss and Buechner, and even to-day we may
sometimes be entertained by a belated eighteenth century naturalist who
is fully persuaded that his denial of human immortality is an inevitable
corollary from the doctrine of evolution. Indeed the progress of
scientific discovery has been so rapid since the time of Diderot, its
achievements have been so vast, its results so multifarious and so
dazzling, that it has well-nigh absorbed the attention of the foremost
minds. The dogmas of theology seem stale and empty, the speculations of
metaphysics vain and unprofitable, in comparison with the fascinating
marvels of chemistry and astronomy, of palæontology and spectrum
analysis; and it is natural that we should rejoice over the methods of
research that are enabling us thus to wrest from Nature a few of her
long guarded secrets, and to make up our minds to have nothing to do
with conclusions that are not obtained or at least verified by such
scientific methods. Daily we hear sounded the praises of observation, of
experiment, of comparison; we are warned against long deductions, since
the strength of any chain of arguments is measured by that of its
weakest link, and experience is perpetually teaching us, to our
vexation and chagrin, that what reason says must be so is not so, that
facts will not fit hypothesis. The more things we try to explain, the
better we realize that we live in a world of unexplained residua. Away,
then, with all so-called truths that cannot be tested by weights and
measures, or other direct appeals to the senses! Your modern philosopher
will have nothing of them. His system is composed, from start to finish,
of scientific theorems. As for the higher speculations, the deeper
generalizations, in which philosophy has been wont to indulge concerning
the aim and meaning of existence, he waves them away as profitless or
even mischievous. The world is full of questions as pressing as they are
baffling. As I once heard Herbert Spencer say, "You cannot take up any
problem in physics without being quickly led to some metaphysical
problem which you can neither solve nor evade." It was in order to
secure philosophic peace of mind that Auguste Comte undertook to build
up what he called Positive Philosophy, in which the existence of all
such problems was to be complacently ignored,--much as the ostrich seeks
escape from a dilemma by burying its head in the sand. In a far more
reverent and justifiable spirit the agnostic like Huxley or Spencer
acknowledges the limitations of the human mind and builds as far as he
may, leaving the rest to God.

In the fervour of this modern reliance upon scientific methods, we are
warned with especial emphasis against all humours and predilections
which we may be in danger of cherishing as human beings. In a new sense
of the words we are reminded that "the heart of man is deceitful and
desperately wicked," and if any belief is especially pleasant or
consoling to us, forthwith does Science lay upon us her austere command
to mortify the flesh and treat the belief in question with exceptional
disfavour and suspicion. Thus there has grown up a kind of Puritanism in
the scientific temper which, while announcing its unalterable purpose to
follow Truth though she lead us to Hades, takes a kind of grim
satisfaction in emphasizing the place of destination.

Now there can be no sort of doubt that this rigid and vigorous
scientific temper is in the main eminently wholesome and commendable. In
the interests of intellectual honesty there is nothing which we need
more than to be put on our guard against allowing our reasoning
processes to be warped by our feelings. Nevertheless in steering clear
of Scylla it would be a pity to tumble straight into the maw of
Charybdis, and it behooves us to ask just how far the canons of
scientific method are competent to guide us in dealing with ultimate
questions. Science has given us so many surprises that our capacity for
being shocked or astounded is well-nigh exhausted, and our old
unregenerate human nature has been bullied and badgered into something
like humility; so that now, at the end of the greatest and most
bewildering of centuries, we may fitly pause for a moment and ask how
fares it, in these exacting days, with that Unseen World which man
brought with him when he was first making his appearance on our planet?
And what has science to say about that time-honoured belief that the
human soul survives the death of the human body?

The position that science irrevocably condemns such a belief seems at
first sight a very strong one and has unquestionably had a good deal of
weight with many minds of the present generation. Throughout the animal
kingdom we never see sensation, perception, instinct, volition,
reasoning, or any of the phenomena which we distinguish as mental,
manifested except in connection with nerve-matter arranged in systems of
various degrees of complexity. We can trace sundry relations of general
correspondence between the increasing manifestations of intelligence and
the increasing complications of the nervous system. Injuries to the
nervous structure entail failures of function, either in the mental
operations themselves or in the control which they exercise over the
actions of the body; there is either psychical aberration, or loss of
consciousness, or muscular paralysis. At the moment of death, as soon as
the current of arterial blood ceases to flow through the cerebral
vessels, all signs of consciousness cease for the looker-on; and after
the nervous system has been resolved into its elements, what reason have
we to suppose that consciousness survives, any more than that the
wetness of water should survive its separation into oxygen and hydrogen?

So far as our terrestrial experience goes there can be but one answer to
such a question. We have no more warrant in experience for supposing
consciousness to exist without a nervous system than we have for
supposing the properties of water to exist in a world destitute of
hydrogen and oxygen. Our power of framing conceptions is narrowly
limited by experience, and when we try to figure to ourselves the
conditions of a future life we are either hopelessly baffled at the
start or else we fall back upon grossly materialistic imagery. The
savage's ghost-world is a mere repetition of the fights and hunts with
which he is familiar. The early Christians looked forward to a speedy
resurrection from Sheol, followed by an endless bodily existence upon a
renovated earth. Dante's pictures of the Unseen World are often so
intensely materialistic as to seem grotesque in our more truly spiritual
age. Popular conceptions of heaven to-day abound in symbolism that is
confessedly a mere reflection from the world of matter; insomuch that
persons of sufficient culture to realize the inadequacy of these popular
images are wont to avoid the difficulty by refraining from putting their
hopes and beliefs into any definite or describable form. Among such
minds there is a tacit agreement that the unseen world must be purely
spiritual in constitution, yet no mental image of such a world can be
formed. We are all agreed that life beyond the grave would be a delusion
and a cruel mockery without the continuance of the tender household
affections which alone make the present life worth living; but to
imagine the recognition of soul by soul apart from the material
structure in which we have known soul to be manifested, apart from the
look of the loved face, the tones of the loved voice, or the renewed
touch of the long vanished hand, is something quite beyond our power.
Even if you try to imagine your own psychical activity as continuing
without the aid of the physical machinery of sensation, you soon get
into unmanageable difficulties. The furniture of your mind consists in
great part of sensuous images, chiefly visual, and you cannot in thought
follow yourself into a world that does not announce itself to you
through sense impressions. From all this it plainly appears that our
notion of the survival of conscious activity apart from material
conditions is not only unsupported by any evidence that can be gathered
from the world of which we have experience but is utterly and hopelessly

The argument here summarized is in no way profound or abstruse; it is
extremely obvious, and as its propositions cannot well be controverted,
it has had great weight with many people. I dare say it may be held
responsible for the larger part of contemporary skepticism as to the
future life. People have grown accustomed to demanding scientific
support for doctrines, whereas this doctrine is not only destitute of
scientific support but lands us in inconceivabilities; is it not, then,
untenable and absurd? Such is the common argument. There are those who
seek to meet it with inductive evidence of the presence of disembodied
spirits or ghosts which hold direct communication only with certain
specially endowed persons known as mediums. Concerning such inductive
evidence it may be said that very little has as yet been brought
forward which is likely to make much impression upon minds trained in
investigation. If its value as evidence were to be conceded, it would
seem to point to the conclusion that the grade of intelligence which
survives the grave is about on a par with that which in the present life
we are accustomed to shut up in asylums for idiots. On the whole the
mediumistic ideas and methods are frankly materialistic, their alleged
communications with the other world are through sights and sounds, and
if their pretensions could be sustained the result would be simply the
rehabilitation of the primitive ghost-world. Their theory of things
moves on so low a plane as hardly to merit notice in a serious
philosophic discussion.

To return to the argument that the doctrine of the survival of conscious
activity apart from material conditions is unsupported by experience and
is inconceivable, we may observe that it is inconceivable just because
it is entirely without foundation in experience. Our powers of
conception are narrowly determined by the limits of our experience, and
when that experience has never furnished us with the materials for
framing a conception we simply cannot frame it. Hence we cannot conceive
of the conscious soul as entirely dissociated from any material vehicle.

Now we are prepared to ask, How much does this famous argument amount
to, as against the belief that the soul survives the body? The answer
is, Nothing! absolutely nothing. It not only fails to disprove the
validity of the belief, but it does not raise even the slightest _prima
facie_ presumption against it. This will at once become apparent if we
remember that human experience is very far indeed from being infinite,
and that there are in all probability immense regions of existence in
every way as real as the region which we know, yet concerning which we
cannot form the faintest rudiment of a conception. Within the past
century the study of light and other radiant forces has furnished us
with a suggestive object-lesson. The luminiferous ether combines
properties which are inconceivable in connection. How curious to think
that we live and move in an ocean of ether in which the particles of
all material things are floating like islands! But how amazing to learn
that this ocean of ether is also an adamantine firmament! Is not this
sheer nonsense? an ocean firmament of ether-adamant! Yet such seems to
be the fact, and our philosophy must make the best of it. Now suppose
that all this world were crowded with disembodied souls, an infinite
throng most aptly called "the majority," a thousand or more on every
spot in space as broad as the point of a cambric needle, in what way
could we become aware of their existence? Clearly in no way, since we
have no organ or faculty for the perception of soul apart from the
material structure and activities in which it has been manifested
throughout the whole course of our experience. There we will suppose are
the countless millions, the existence of any one of whom, could we
detect it, would suffice to demonstrate the doctrine of a future life,
and yet, for lack of the requisite means of communication, all this
evidence is inaccessible. Such an illustration shows that "the entire
absence of testimony does not even raise a negative presumption except
in cases where testimony is accessible." The reason is obvious. Until we
can go wherever the testimony may be, we are not entitled to affirm that
there is an absence of testimony. So long as our knowledge is restricted
by the conditions of this terrestrial life, we are not in a position to
make negative assertions as to regions of existence outside of these
conditions. We may feel quite free, therefore, to give due weight to any
considerations which make it probable that consciousness survives the
wreck of the material body.

We are now in a position to see the fallacy of Moleschott's often-quoted
aphorism, "No thought without phosphorus!" When this saying was a new
one, there were worthy people who felt that somehow it was all over with
man's immortal soul. With phosphorus you light your candle, and with
phosphorus you discover Neptune and write the Fifth Symphony; how
charmingly simple and convincing! And yet was anything save a bit of
rhetoric really gained by singling out phosphorus among the chemical
constituents of brain tissue rather than nitrogen or carbon? Suppose the
dictum had been, "No thought without a brain." The obvious answer would
have been, "If you refer to the present life, most erudite professor,
your remark is true, but hardly novel or startling; if you refer to any
condition of things subsequent to death, pray where did you obtain your

Nevertheless this point cannot be disposed of simply by exhibiting the
flaw in Moleschott's rhetoric. His remark rests upon the assumption that
conscious mental phenomena are products of the organic tissues with
which they are associated. This is of course the central stronghold of
materialism. A century ago the case was very boldly put when we were
asked to believe that the brain secretes thought as the liver secretes
bile. Nobody to-day would think of making such a comparison, but it is
more cautiously stated that consciousness is a "function" of the brain,
or at all events of the nervous system, even as bile-making is a
function of the liver. Before we yield any modicum of assent to this
statement we may observe that "function" is a word with a wide range of
meaning, and we must insist upon some closer definition. Here
materialism calls to its aid the discovery of the correlation and
equivalence of forces, one of the most stupendous achievements of our
century. We now know that heat and light and electricity and actinism
are not forces generically distinct and isolated each from the others.
All are specific modes of molecular motion, transformable one into
another at any moment as naturally as a cloud condenses into raindrops.
Any such molecular motion, moreover, may come from the arrested visible
motion of a mass, and may in turn be liberated so as to resume the form
of visible motion, as when an electric current is transformed into the
onward movement of the trolley car. The change in our conception of
Nature that has been wrought by this wonderful discovery is more
profound than all changes that went before. The balance in the hands of
the chemist had already proved that no matter is ever lost but only
transformed, and that every material form at any moment visible owes its
existence to the metamorphosis of some previous form. So now it was
further shown that the myriad properties or qualities of matter are
simply the expression of myriads of activities which are all in a final
analysis motions; that no motion is ever lost but only transformed, and
that every kind of motion at any moment perceptible--whether in the form
of movement through space, or of light, or heat, or electricity, or the
actinism that builds up the green stuff in the leaves of plants--owes
its existence to the metamorphosis of some previous kind of motion.
Every living organism is a marvellous aggregate of divers forms of
matter performing divers characteristic motions, and the sum total of
these motions is the whole of life, as regarded purely on its physical
side. When we take food we bring into the system sundry nitrogenous and
hydrocarbon compounds, each of which is alive with little energies or
latent capacities for certain kinds of motion. The oxygen of the air,
especially in its unstable form of ozone, is a powerful inciter of
chemical motions, and when we breathe it in, the little latent
capacities presently become actual motions. Some of them are realized in
the rhythmical movements of heart and lungs, some in the undulations
that sustain the animal temperature, some in the formation of the tiny
drops that collect in a secreting gland, some in the repair of tissue by
the substitution of new complex molecules for old ones that are broken
down, some in the contraction of a group of muscles, some in the changes
within the substance of nerve that accompany conscious thought,
sensation, and volition. Ah, yes, here we come to it at last! We do not
doubt that all these myriad motions are members in a series of
transformations, wherein the appearance of each results from the
disappearance of its predecessors. We have neither the instruments nor
the calculus to prove this in the infinite multitude of details, but the
general theory has been so completely established wherever it is
accessible to instruments and calculus that we can have no hesitation in
granting its universality wherever matter and motion are concerned in
any shape or amount. No scientific man will for a moment doubt that the
little vibratory discharge between cerebral ganglia which accompanies a
thought is one member in a series of molecular motions that might be
measured and expressed in terms of quantity if we only possessed an
apparatus sufficiently delicate and subtle.

Now if such is the case with the little physical motion within the
brain, how is it with the accompanying thought? Does the correlation
obtain between physical motions and conscious feelings? Are states of
consciousness links in the Protean series of motions, in such wise that
the vibration within the brain produces the thought or feeling? In other
words is the thought or feeling merely a transformed vibration? Does a
certain amount of vibration perish to be replaced by an exact equivalent
in the shape of thought? and then does the thought perish in the act of
giving place to other vibrations which end in a visible motion of
muscles? as when, for example, you hear the sound of a bell and start
toward the door.

On this point there has been much confusion of ideas. When I put the
question to Tyndall in conversation, nearly thirty years ago, he seemed
to think that there must be some such completeness of correlation
between the physical and the psychical; but his mind was not at ease on
the subject. Herbert Spencer, in his "First Principles," rather
cautiously took the same direction and tried to show how a certain
amount of motion might be transformable into a certain amount of
feeling. He observed that the consciousness of effort or muscular strain
in lifting a heavy weight is more intense than in lifting a light
weight, and that when a loud sound sets up atmospheric vibrations of
great amplitude the shock to our auditory consciousness is
correspondingly greater than in the case of a gentle sound which sets up
vibrations of small amplitude. But when he comes to the inner regions of
thought and emotion which are not reached by percussion and strain, he
is less successful in finding illustrations. It is especially worthy of
note that in the final edition of "First Principles," published in this
year 1900 and in Spencer's eighty-first, he goes very far toward
withdrawing from his original position, while in his Preface he calls
attention to this change as one of the most important in the book. In my
"Cosmic Philosophy," published in 1874, I maintained that to prove the
transformation of motion into feeling or of feeling into motion is in
the very nature of things impossible. In order to be convinced of this,
let us go back a few years and ask how the great doctrine of the
correlation of forces became established. Its first absolute
verification occurred about 1846, when Dr. Joule showed "that the fall
of 772 lbs. through one foot will raise the temperature of a pound of
water one degree of Fahrenheit."[2] When this was proved it gave us the
mechanical equivalent of heat, and the theory acquired a truly
scientific character. Similar quantitative correlations were established
in the case of heat and chemical action by Dulong and Petit, and in the
case of chemical action and electricity by Faraday. The truth of the
theory is wholly a question of quantitative measurement. Now you can
measure heat, you can measure electricity, and since the action of
nerves in all probability consists of undulatory motions it is to some
extent measurable, and doubtless would be completely measurable had we
the means. But when you come to thoughts and emotions, I beg to know
how you are going to work to give an account of them in foot-pounds! It
is not simply that we have no means at hand, no calculus equal to the
occasion; the thing is absurd on its face. It is as true to-day as it
was in the time of Descartes that thought is devoid of extension and
cannot be submitted to mechanical measurement.

[2] Herbert Spencer, _First Principles_ (final ed.), p. 185.

It appears to me, therefore, that what we should really find, if we
could trace in detail the metamorphosis of motions within the body, from
the sense-organs to the brain, and thence outward to the muscular
system, would be somewhat as follows: the inward motion, carrying the
message into the brain, would perish in giving place to the vibration
which accompanies the conscious state; and this vibration in turn would
perish in giving place to the outward motion, carrying the mandate out
to the muscles. If we had the means of measurement we could prove the
equivalence from step to step. But where would the conscious state, the
thought or feeling, come into this circuit? Why, nowhere. The physical
circuit of motions is complete in itself; the state of consciousness is
accessible only to its possessor. To him it is the subjective equivalent
of the vibration within the brain, whereof it is neither the cause nor
the effect, neither the producer nor the offspring, but simply the
concomitant. In other words the natural history of the mass of
activities that are perpetually being concentrated within our bodies,
to be presently once more disintegrated and diffused, shows us a closed
circle which is entirely physical, and in which one segment belongs to
the nervous system. As for our conscious life, that forms no part of the
closed circle but stands entirely outside of it, concentric with the
segment which belongs to the nervous system.

These conclusions are not at all in harmony with the materialistic view
of the case. If consciousness is a product of molecular motion, it is a
natural inference that it must lapse when the motion ceases. But if
consciousness is a kind of existence which within our experience
accompanies a certain phase of molecular motion, then the case is
entirely altered, and the possibility or probability of the continuance
of the one without the other becomes a subject for further inquiry.
Materialists sometimes declare that the relation of conscious
intelligence to the brain is like that of music to the harp, and when
the harp is broken there can be no more music. An opposite view, long
familiar to us, is that the conscious soul is an emanation from the
Divine Intelligence that shapes and sustains the world, and during its
temporary imprisonment in material forms the brain is its instrument of
expression. Thus the soul is not the music, but the harper; and
obviously this view is in harmony with the conclusions which I have
deduced from the correlation of forces.

Upon these conclusions we cannot directly base an argument sustaining
man's immortality, but we certainly remove the only serious objection
that has ever been alleged against it. We leave the field clear for
those general considerations of philosophic analogy and moral
probability which are all the guides upon which we can call for help in
this arduous inquiry. But it may be suggested at this point that perhaps
our argument has acquired a wider scope than was at first contemplated.
Consciousness is not peculiar to man, but is possessed in some degree by
the greater portion of the animal kingdom. Among the higher birds and
mammals the amount of conscious life is very considerable, and here too
it must be argued that consciousness is not a product of molecular
motion in the nervous system but its concomitant. The same argument
which removes the objection to immortality for man removes it also for
an indefinite number of animal species. What, then, is to be said of the
reasonableness of supposing a future life for sundry lower animals? and
if we were to reach a negative conclusion in their case, while reaching
a positive conclusion in the case of man, on what principle are we to
draw the line? Sometimes we hear this question propounded as a
difficulty in the Darwinian theory of man's origin. How could immortal
man have been produced through heredity from an ephemeral brute?

The difficulty is one of the sort which we are apt to encounter when we
try to designate absolute beginnings and to mark off hard and fast
lines, for in Nature there are no such things. Voltaire asked the same
kind of question more than a hundred years before Darwinism had been
heard of. When does the immortal soul of the human individual come into
existence? Is it at the moment of conception, or when the new-born babe
begins to breathe, or at some moment between, or even perhaps at some
era of early childhood when moral responsibility can be said to have
begun? Some of the answers to these questions would transform an
ephemeral creature into an immortal one in the same person. The most
proper answer is a frank confession of ignorance. Whether it be in the
individual or in the race, we cannot tell just where the soul comes in.
A due heed to Nature's analogies, however, is helpful in this
connection. The maxim that Nature makes no leaps is far from true.
Nature's habit is to make prodigious leaps, but only after long
preparation. Slowly rises the water in the tank, inch by inch through
many a weary hour, until at length it over-flows and straightway vast
systems of machinery are awakened into rumbling life. Slowly grows the
eccentricity of the ellipse as you shift its position in the cone, and
still the nature of the curve is not essentially varied, when suddenly,
presto! one more little shift, and the finite ellipse becomes an
infinite hyperbola mocking our feeble powers of conception as it speeds
away on its everlasting career. Perhaps in our ignorance such analogies
may help us to realize the possibility that steadily developing
ephemeral conscious life may reach a critical point where it suddenly
puts on immortality.

If this suggestion is a sound one, we must probably regard the conscious
life of animals as only the ephemeral adumbration of that which comes to
maturity in man. The considerations adduced this evening must convince
us that we are at perfect liberty to treat the question of man's
immortality in the disinterested spirit of the naturalist. In the course
of evolution there is no more philosophical difficulty in man's
acquiring immortal life than in his acquiring the erect posture and
articulate speech. In my little book "The Destiny of Man" I insisted
upon the dramatic tendency or divine purpose indicated in the long
cosmic process which has manifestly from the outset aimed at the
production and perfection of the higher spiritual attributes of
humanity. In another little book, "Through Nature to God," I called
attention to the fact that belief in an Unseen World, especially
associated with the moral significance of life, was coeval with the
genesis of Man, and had played a predominating part in his development
ever since, and I argued that under such circumstances the belief must
be based upon an eternal reality, since a contrary supposition is
negatived by all that we know of the habits and methods of the cosmic
process of Evolution. No time is left here to repeat these arguments,
but I hope enough has been said to indicate the probability that the
patient study of evolution is likely soon to supply the basis for a
Natural Theology more comprehensive, more profound, and more hopeful
than could formerly have been imagined. The Nineteenth Century has borne
the brunt, the Twentieth will reap the fruition.





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